Q&A on North Korea and the claim of a hydrogen bomb

Assistant Public Policy Professor Nikolay Anguelov discusses the potential responses from the U.S. and the rest of the international community.

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Dr. Anguelov is the author of "Economic Sanctions vs. Soft Power: Lessons from North Korea, Myanmar, and the Middle East" published this past summer.

This week North Korea claimed victory for a successful hydrogen bomb test. The report has been met with skepticism, but also concern, from many around the globe. UMass Dartmouth Assistant Public Policy Professor Nikolay Anguelov discusses the potential responses from the U.S. and the rest of the international community. Dr. Anguelov is the author of Economic Sanctions vs. Soft Power: Lessons from North Korea, Myanmar, and the Middle East, published this past summer. The book examines the industrial growth of sanctioned nations in terms of their ability to foster trade partnerships with countries that choose to evade or not comply with sanctions.

South Korea’s leader, President Park Geun-hye, stated that North Korea must pay “a corresponding price for the nuclear test.” What do you think this could possibly mean in term of sanctions?

NA: Absolutely nothing.  South Korea keeps on increasing its trade with the North via economic zones because it wants a chunk of the commerce that China and Russia have in North Korean rare earth processing and export.  Despite what many term a "conservative" South Korean government, meaning one opposing improving diplomatic relations with the North, trade between the two countries has been steadily growing despite the political muscle flexing. One test will not lead to the dismantling of any of those zones or any of the economic activity other regional trade partners of North Korea enjoy.  There may be a restriction of U.N. backed aid and military equipment commerce, but it is unlikely. 

It would be interesting to see how the U.N. Security Council responds to this "provocation,” as it is now officially termed. The British PM called for "robust international response" and the Japanese PM called for "resolute" measures. The question is called to whom?  Nobody is coming out with any specific sanction talk, but everyone is calling for everyone to do something.  The problem is that we've seen all of that before and the sanction options in place now are pretty exhaustive except for those nations like Russia and China that don't follow them.  If anything, they relish sanctions because it gives them unbridled and preferential commercial access to the valuable North Korea commodity exports and, in the case of China, a lucrative export market for its agricultural products. 

How important is China’s role in the response from the international community?

NA: Very important but likely to be symbolic. China and North Korea have increasing economic ties culminating with the opening of yet another major shipping route this past fall to facilitate in the extraction trade of precious earths, which currently North Korea boasts, along with other commodities such as coal and ores.  The new shipping route is mostly for coal trade.  This is important to remember because it indicates how deceptive China’s official stances are.  In the months leading up to the Paris Climate Summit, China showed a commitment to reducing its coal use for energy purposes and yet, it is expanding its importation of coal from North Korea via establishing a specific high volume (and very expensive) shipping platform. 

From the perspective of the U.S. and the Obama Administration how much different is managing North Korea verse Iran as a nuclear challenge? 

NA: Very different because North Korea's official stance is that it needs and has a right to develop nuclear weapons to defend itself against the United States. The problem is that apart from the delusional (yet carefully calculated in fear mongering political rhetoric of its dictatorial regime) claim that the U.S. is planning on attacking it, there is no credible threat.  Iran on the other hand is a credible threat to Israel. 

If it is confirmed that North Korea detonated its first hydrogen bomb, do you think we will see any dramatic shift in policy by the international community in its approach to North Korea? 

NA: Based on all the research I have been doing in the last few years on soft power and economic sanctions in North Korea, my educated guess is no.  The international community, as I think we are referring to it now, denotes the "West.” The problem is that when it comes to North Korea, it barks at the West but deals only with the East.  And until now, the East (China in the lead but the rest of the ASEAN nations and Russia follow) has been noncommittal, at best, if not outright supportive, of North Korea's pugilism. The best we can hope for is that China says to North Korea "ok, don't do that anymore..." but that won't result in any real pressure given that it is such a hypothetical demand.

About Nikolay Anguelov:

Professor Anguelov specializes in trade policy, industrial recruitment policy, and regionalization. He has a Ph.D. in Policy Studies with a focus on Rural and Regional Economic Development and an MPA as well as a MS in Applied Economics and Statistics from Clemson University. Dr. Anguelov completed his undergraduate studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology where he earned a double B.S. in International Trade and Advertising Communications and Marketing.  After his undergraduate studies Nick spent a number of years in the private sector as an international trade operative. The Assistant Public Policy Professor is also the author of The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry: Fast Fashion and its Negative Impact on Environment and Society, which examines the textile industry as one of the biggest business sectors practicing labor violations and use of environmentally hazardous processes. 


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